Right before their hard fought loss at home to Manchester United following Marcus Rashford’s last ditch winner, Hull City were being labelled as a possible ‘new Leicester City’. Two consecutive wins, despite not having a majority of their players, Hull City ousted the side they were being compared to – Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester and Francesco Guidolin’s Swansea. Six points on the board and being right behind the two Manchester giants early in the season can well be termed as a heroic achievement considering the Tigers’ ailing situation.
Steve Bruce, who resigned from his position as the Hull manager last month following a disagreement regarding transfer activity at the club, had achieved a lot for the Tigers before leaving behind a thankless crisis. The former Manchester United defender was denied compensation, as he failed to snap up three of his transfer targets at the KCOM Stadium. Bruce exited when the club had failed to land a single player this summer, piling on intensity to the prevailing crisis. Mike Phelan, who came in to impose his authority over a side struggling with massive injury problems, succeeded in defying the odds that pertained to lifting a floundering outfit. And Sam Clucas, who was roped in by Bruce himself a year ago, was a key reason for Hull’s success in the first two games and will continue to be a central figure in their aspirations, as the seasons wears on.
Who is he?
A left midfielder by trade, Clucas played for Leicester till 2001 to 2008 as an adolescent, before leaving the Midlands club at the age of 16. After spending a season at Nettleham in the Central Midlands Football League, the youngster joined home town club Lincoln, where he studied sports development educated at Lincoln College, before having been offered a soccer scholarship in the United States.
After a successful trial with Lincoln, Clucas impressed manager Peter Jackson, who dubbed the Englishman as a ‘real find’ for his club. But after making just a limited amount of appearances for his hometown club, Clucas was placed on the transfer list by Jackson and he was eventually released by Lincoln in the summer of 2010.
A two year scholarship with the Glenn Hoddle Academy came knocking at the door for Clucas, after he passed a trial at Bisham Abbey. His spell at the Glenn Hoddle Academy helped him seal a switch to Spanish club Jerez Industrial, where Clucas did impress well enough to return to England to ply his trade with Hereford United. His stint at West Midlands, that lasted two years, saw him make as many as 58 appearances for Hereford in the midfield, scoring eight times.
In 2013, Clucas signed a two-year deal with Mansfield Town, before which he had ended up rejecting Crewe Alexandra. In the 2013-14 season, Clucas became a regular for Mansfield, making 43 appearances and racking up nine goals.
A season later, on transfer deadline day in 2014, League One outfit Chesterfield signed Clucas on a three-year deal, as he emerged as a key part of the side, appearing 41 times and scoring as many as nine times for them.
The midfielder’s slow and a rather meticulous rise to recognition continued with a move to Hull, who were looking to gain direct promotion back the Premier League, following their relegation and Newcastle United’s survival. Clucas scored on his Hull debut, finding the back of the net against Huddersfield, making 37 appearances in Hull’s promotion campaign.
The 25-year-old’s performance during Hull’s 2-1 win over champions Leicester attracted rave reviews, with Hull rewarding him with a new deal.
What kind of a player is he?
The crisis which is currently ensuing at Hull has forced manager Mike Phelan to play Clucas in the central midfield, where he has done really well to compliment both the defence and the attack. And Steve Bruce, whose success at Hull last season was largely down to a solid back four, has a lot to thank Clucas, who despite not being a defender, was a vital part of their defensive armoury.
The Englishman is someone who stays close to the full-back, offering him as much defensive support as he can. His tendency to help out Andy Robertson, while defending last season was a major reason for Hull’s defensive successes last season. He would drop deep into defensive areas, disallowing Robertson to get sucked into one-on-ones or two-on-ones.
Playing as a left midfielder last season, Clucas made 1.2 tackles per game, apart from also making 1.1 interceptions per game. In 39 starts in front of Robertson, Clucas scored eight times and racked up eight assists for the Tigers.
He has the energy and determination to cover a lot of ground on the left flank and as soon as his team looses possession, Clucas will track back to retrieve the ball. Not just this, but his exploits in front of goal suggest some amount of goal threat that he carries. He may not be the most flamboyant dribbler in the league, but he is a very sound passer of the ball.
From the central midfield this season, his passing traits have come in really handy. He has the ability to dribble the ball out of crowded areas and then sparking attacking moves for Hull. His passing accuracy last season was 81 percent, but his tally of 1.1 crosses and 1.0 long balls per game suggests how much of a technical player he is. Around the box, the Englishman is very active in terms of rotating possession and complimenting the build-up of the side. He created 61 chances last season, a majority of which were threaded through balls or accurate passes from all sorts of angles.
Despite a slightly wiry body frame, Clucas is someone who likes to tackle and use his body to shield the ball from the opposition. And its his hard-working approach to the game that often makes him run the full length of the pitch, helping the side both aspects of the game.
Clucas’ rise from playing in lowly divisions and for lesser known outfits to playing in the Premier League and becoming a key player for his side has been gradual but with age, he has shown very apparent signs of development. And this shows that as he grows, he has improved and as the years wear on, he will certainly change the level at which he plays.
The ongoing season will arguably be the most important campaign of his career. If he shines for Hull and helps them avoid relegation and even if the Tigers don’t avoid the drop, impressive performances will attract interest from mid-table Premier League clubs. And his hard-working ethic and style is something that attracts a lot of Premier League outfits, especially if they play at home. Clucas can cover a lot of distance of the ball and sides like West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City would certainly make do with players who have as much brains as brawns.
And if Clucas carries on with playing as good as he is, alongside new signing Ryan Mason, he can have a partner who has a similar mould as him. Both can compliment each other well in the midfield, with Clucas doing more of that defensive job than Mason. And there’s no pressure on him as well, which is another added bonus for him to develop without any burden on his shoulders.